Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review : Enter Night - The Metallica Biography by Mick Wall

The last time I checked, and I check often enough, there are some 600 choices for books on Metallica at  Sure not all of these are biographical or even remotely based on the story of the band, but my point is there are a fucking ton of books on them!  This review is intended to reach those who have or more importantly, will purchase a Metallica bio book…as well as those who are thinking of writing one.

At one point, the story and history of Metallica was a wide open highway.  Its mile markers were there, all that needed to be done was for someone to lay the miles and miles of blackened asphalt.  The story, as we all know is one of legend and its interpretation has been attempted many times with a variety of results.  Those who have put pen to paper in the name of the band have always seemingly done so from the “outside.”  This is not a coincidence. Metallica may have started as “the people’s band” but make no mistake, that band is a multi-multi million (billion?) dollar corporation with very few loose lips within its ranks.   

With the release of the highly anticipated Mick Wall penned ‘Enter Night’ the Metalli-book market just got a lot fucking smaller. We’re talking narrowing your choices from say 30-40 to less than a handful. It doesn’t take long for ‘Enter Night’ to go from being just “another Metallica book” to being “THE Metallica book.” I’m not saying Mick discovers a lost treasure trove of information or reinvents the wheel, I mean let’s face it, we all know the basic story. 

Lars’ 1973’s Deep Purple show, James’ Christian Scientist upbringing, Dave Mustaine, moving to San Francisco, Jonny Z, head to New Jersey, Megaforce, Sweet Silence Studios, Q-Prime, Elektra, Ozzy tour, Ljungby, Sweden, Jason Newsted blah, blah, blah.  All of that is in here, of course but it’s the reading between the lines and the delivery that makes this one different.   

Mick Wall is no stranger to the world of Metallica and has definitely done his research with both his personal as well as professional experiences with them. One of the key things to making ‘Enter Night’ so successful are the people and sources who have gone on record to enhance the already mind-boggling origin and meteoric rise of the band.  The supporting cast of the Metallica story has always played a big part in its history.  Names like Brian Slagel, Jon “Jonny Z” Zazula, Xavier Russell, Hugh Grant, Ron Quintana, Harald Oimoen, Malcolm Dome, Geoff Barton and many others have almost become as much a part of the ‘Tallica story as those of the band members themselves.  There’s a reason for that, this we all know.  You don’t become one of the biggest selling bands in the history of music all by yourself, do you? 

So these people (some of whom) in and around Metallica since their inception are interviewed for the book and let me tell you, each and every one of the hit home runs!  Don’t get me wrong, just about all of them have been interviewed for various books, documentaries etc. over the years, but there’s no doubt in my mind they’ve all dug a bit deeper for Mr. Mick Wall.  I lost count at fifteen or twenty things that just blew my mind while reading and suspect it will do the same for you.   Things that have never been shared or remembered or brought forth in such a way really does wonders for a story you might have heard before…or even fifty times before.  

Wall begins ‘Enter Night’ by dissecting the individual members to a certain degree, shedding light on the personalities of the individuals who would go on to change Heavy Metal history.  Each member is looked at rather honestly and because of his history with the band, some of this honesty can be taken or left.  I personally enjoyed what was written and think you will too.  Throughout the book Wall speaks very highly of Cliff Burton on a number of levels, those being the obvious as well as the not so obvious.  In fact the entire book is rather Cliff heavy and the association doesn’t end in 1986 either. More on this later though.   
Interview wise, there’s both historic, current (2009) and archival words from the band itself as well as those who were there at various stages. Jon and Marsha Zazula really go above and beyond in their recollection of the Metallica/Zazula/CraZed Management years. For the first time IMO, ever, you don’t just read about Metallica arriving and their time spent in the Zazula household in the spring of 1983, you’re practically there. Marsha’s memories add much color to the early days. The ‘Rock N Roll Heaven’ stories and what she picked up on from various members, especially Lars, is very telling and almost prophetic of what was yet to come.

Martin Hooker and Gem Howard, former honchos at UK label Music For Nations go to bat with what it was like to work with Metallica and Megaforce in the beginning.  Later, Dave Thorne of Phonogram comes in takes you onto the next level, all of them providing a wealth of information rarely/seldom spoken of. ‘Ride/Master/Justice’ Producer Flemming Rasmussen adds valuable weight to the technical side of the band and how the members evolved from year to year (84-88) both musically as well as personally. How they functioned as a unit creating one of the mightiest trilogy’s in HM history. 

The contributions from former tour manager Bobby Schneider, who started as a drum tech for Lars, are some of the best in the entire book. Where I previously mention interviewees hitting home runs?  Well without even trying, Schneider hits Grand Slam after Grand Slam.  His joining the Metallica world in 1985 and working with them until (I believe) the end of the “Damaged Justice” era is some of the most fascinating stuff in here. From inner workings, relationships and closed door happenings, Schneider matter-of-factly details his time while bringing the reader into their world during the, to some, most exciting years (85-89/90).  I don’t want to give away too much here, I’d much rather you take my word for it.  His words and recollections are just essential to the Metallica story. 

Undocumented tales of how the pairing of Metallica and Q-Prime came to, and continue to, rule the world from meager beginnings is also given some hefty ink.  If you’re a Metallica fan or just a fan of the business of music, this is some of the most interesting stuff in the book. The dynamics between managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch and the band especially that of Lars Ulrich are the tales and situations you couldn’t dream up.  Mick having spent considerable time with both parties, again, brings the truth in an uncompromising way.  

Their evolution from point A to point B is nothing short of revolutionary.  True, there’s a lot of luck that gets a band so successful and influential enough that it makes its way into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame (yeah it’s a sham, but Metallica are dare I say bigger than this farce of an institution).  However, behind that luck is also a shared belief and the drive to stop at nothing attitude that transcends and obliterates four leaf clovers.  

Because of the personal interactions with the band over the years Mick Wall comes with some rather deep and often insightful words/memories/experiences I don’t think I’ve ever read in another Metallica book. His memories of the Cliff Burton era are crisp and vibrant and help explain just what the young man’s existence meant to not only the music and attitude of the group, but how they carried themselves for the short 36 months of his tenure. 

The Metallica-Jason Newsted marriage of some 15 years is examined fairly thoroughly and at times rather harshly.  Brutal in his views on the pairing from the start Mick point blank summarizes a relationship that (from the inside) seemed doomed from the start.  It’s a shame really as Newsted was a great foot soldier and did the best with what and whom he had to work with, but the dissatisfaction of it all rears its ugly head time and again here.  Mick’s summary of the “Newkid” years on pages 379-380, especially the way he leaves things at the end are so hauntingly true…it’s just not right. 
Are you still with me?  Cool, I’m trying to wrap things up here so bear with me.

Because Metallica was guarded by their (management controlled) public image and never a typical “Sunset Strip” proper type of band, their excesses were usually tied to (harmless?) alcohol consumption and perhaps a “dabbling here and there” of substances.  I, as a fan never gave it much thought, and those I’ve spoken to on the subject felt the same.  Plenty of us believed the press when the band would say “it was all about the music, not about girls and drugs, all the cliché stuff” that surrounded Heavy Metal in the mid to late 80’s.  Thinking now, guys in their early 20’s only living for the music seems absurd, but that’s the way their image was protected and it worked.  ‘Enter Night’ definitely shines a new light on some of what fueled the band and the effects of such choices at various times in their career.  Ah, to be young and naïve again!   

As the story progresses, much like the music itself of the late 1990’s there’s not too much you can really do with the story.  All of what happens, ‘Load,’ ‘Reload,’ Napster, image, inter-band turmoil etc. runs it’s course and no matter who it is writing about it, its an era some fans don’t really want to remember or look back on with any such fondness.  So while it’s all put together well, it’s not as gripping or mind blowing as the earlier chapters, again, much like the music. 

There’s a ton of great of great interviews here, a wealth of information and all of it very well written.  One gets the feeling Wall was never overly smitten or impressed with Metallica or the massive machine behind the band.  You have to remember this was a guy who was writing and hanging with bands such as Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, UFO and Motörhead when Metallica was still a dream for Lars Ulrich and Co. 

Because of his “lackadaisical” approach to the band, his style is loose, honest and just commanding.  However due to this stance there’s a few errors here and there that are easily looked over, not because they weren’t researched, but it’s seemingly because the big picture is more important to Wall than some of the minute details. 

So in closing, this is a book I loved. It’s broken down several barriers of hearsay and folklore and really humanizes Metallica in a way that simply hasn’t been done before. I’ll have to go on record as saying until an official book hits the shelves, this is about as “it” as it gets.  However now that I think about it, even if something official comes out down the line, chances are this will be the book they try to top. 

***Other than the cover, none of the above images appear in this book.